Single Opt-In or Double Opt-In: Which is Better?

Quick. Can you name the most important aspect of a solid email marketing strategy?

If you guessed “building an email list,” give yourself a gold star (or a pat on the back). After all, if you don’t have an email list, it becomes quite challenging to market to your prospects and customers through email.

There are many ways to grow your list, 13 of them discussed here. However, no matter which tactics you choose to implement, a decision you must make is whether to use a single or double opt-in process.

Some definitions:

Single Opt-In: A subscriber provides their email address to a company, usually via a web form. As soon as they hit submit or enter, the user is added to the email database. In some instances, a company will send out a thank you email indicating that you’ve successfully been added to the list. Other times, the thank you will come in the form of a welcome email. Either way, no other action is required by the subscriber.

Double Opt-In: A subscriber provides their email address to a company, usually via a web form. However, before they are added to the email database, they must reply to the email or click on a link to “confirm” their request to opt-in. If they don’t reply or click the link, they are not added to the list.

Why I’m an Advocate for Single Opt-In

Within the email marketing circles, the single vs. double opt-in discussion is often hotly debated. There are certainly pros and cons for each side. Personally, I think using a double opt-in process is a terrible idea. Here’s why:

I have just gone through the effort of raising my virtual hand to say I want to receive emails from you or your company. I’ve said yes. I’ve opt-in. Then, you send me a confirmation email which basically says, “Are you really sure? Do you really want to get emails from us?” I understand the argument that you’re ensuring I’m a real human being and not a bot; however, you’ll learn that after the first (welcome) email is sent. If it doesn’t bounce, it’s likely to be a valid email address.

On top of that, what if that confirmation email never reaches my inbox? According to some new research by Return Pathonly 76.5% of all commercial email reaches the inbox. Are you willing to risk losing nearly 25% of your opt-ins because they never saw the confirmation email?

Finally, what if you send that confirmation email and it never gets opened or clicked? Again, another lost subscriber.

I recently opted in to receive emails from Staples. The next day, I received an email with the subject line, “Please confirm your email subscription.” When I opened the email, this is what I saw:

Staples confirmation email - images off

With images off, the only indication I have that I need to take an action (confirm) is a small link in the preheader. What if I simply ignored this email? What if I opened it, but never enabled images to see the call to action? What if I deleted it before reading? The answer: I would not be subscribed to the Staples email marketing program – even though I asked to be!

Just to be fair, let’s look at that same confirmation email from Staples with images on:

Staples confirmation email - images on

Now we can clearly see the call to action as well as what to expect from Staples emails. The email is actually quite inviting and very well done. However, I stil stick by my point: Requiring me to double opt-in before I receive your first “real” email makes me – the subscriber – do more work then necessary. Why make it harder than it has to be?

That being said, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. Once. (Don’t tell my wife). Have you found success using a double opt-in approach? Have you tested single vs. double? I’d love to hear more. Please use the comments below.

Cheers.
DJ Waldow

24 comments
djgraffiti
djgraffiti

I can't figure out which side I'm on in this debate. That leaves me thinking of a DJ-ism, that the right form of opt in to choose is the one that's right for your subscribers. On one side there's the subscribers lost due to double opt-in, and on the other side there's lost deliverability due to a dirtier list.

Is there a "smart" email program that will offer a little bit of both? It seems that a system that had an option for re-entry of the email address would get rid of some of the fat fingering (although sometimes I just copy & paste my email address instead of retyping).  But the main feature of the smart system would be to add people who double opt in to one fully confirmed list, and then put the non double opt in folks on a short campaign that emphasizes the opt in link, the value behind fully opting in, and the unsubscribe option. That sequence may only be 2 emails long but it could recapture some of the folks who might have otherwise been lost by using strong subject lines and short to the point emails designed solely to capture straggling subscribers.

Lastly, it seems that putting some serious value behind either form of opt in is your best defense. If I know there's something I really want on the other side of signing up for your list I'll be much more likely to jump through hoops to make sure I get what I have coming to me.

I guess if that system is all (easily) possible, then I'm a double opt in guy. Sorry DJ!

Ashley Sue Bullers
Ashley Sue Bullers

Completely agree with you.  Regardless of the points made by other media specialists here in the comments, I have to say in my experience marketing, I - and many others - are like you.  ANNOYED at being sent an email saying I have to opt-in again.  I just did!  Geez already!  I am already starting to regret it.  It appears you aren't very efficient in your own strategy and such, so perhaps I do not really want to receive your messages.   And, as I have experienced before, someone I end up receiving emails marketing from companies that I either did not sign up for or do not remember doing so.  I simply go to the bottom of those emails and hit unsubscribe.  Done.  I would rather have to do that than be bombarded with the "Are you sure you really, really, really want to subscribe?!" mentality of the double opt-in.

Tom Kulzer
Tom Kulzer

Disappointed that someone with your experience in the email world would take this side.

 

5-15% of any business opt-in list is bogus entries. Either purposeful or malicious, they are outright bogus entries that don't belong to the person or bot that's filling out a form. At least half of those are *real* deliverable addresses that you are now spamming by not using a confirmed opt-in process. Sure, go ahead and run single opt-in, but sooner or later those awful data management practices will catch up with you and your emails will stop getting delivered to all your subscribers not just the ones that never asked for your emails.

DavidWLocke
DavidWLocke

@craigdeakin @djwaldow Just make sure I can get out, and get out quick. Don't make me come back again, or worse call/email.

Angelique
Angelique

The major email services force everyone to use double opt-in, but at least one -- My Newsletter Builder, which I use -- doesn't REALLY require it. Once someone fills out my form, they will begin receiving my newsletters unless I take the extra step to only send it to those people who confirm. I don't. If they've filled out the form, I send. I wish I could get rid of the pretense of that "please conform" message.

Anirudh Bahadur
Anirudh Bahadur

@Ashley Sue Bullers Yes, half of the subscribers that opt in don't even care to confirm because it seems like a hassle, doesn't it. To me it is, if I were to confirm my opt in. But @Tom Kulzer  below mentioned a really practical possibility that might happen sooner or later. So I am still under the dilemma if I should be using single or double opt in. 

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@Tom Kulzer Not sure why I didn't see this comment in January. Sorry Tom. Also sorry that you were disappointed with this post and my stance. I'd love to learn more about where you heard that 5-15% stat. That's a first to me. There are plenty - PLENTY - of services out there that can validate email addresses prior to them being added to your database. Leadspend - http://www.leadspend.com/ - is one of my favorites. If you have 5-15% of your list as "bogus" email addresses, that's a problem that can be fixed ... and should be.

Thanks for your comments and again, sorry it's taken me 7+ months to reply.

cc @JulesWebb @Anirudh Bahadur

JulesWebb
JulesWebb

@Tom Kulzer I am in agreement with you. 

I would also like to point out that from the user end with a double opt in I know it's coming and can make sure the email gets to my inbox and not my spam folder.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

 @LukeAnker GREAT post(s). Thanks so much for sharing. I'll be referencing these in the future for sure. Appreciate you offering an alternative approach.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

 @Angelique Thanks for your comments. I'm not sure that the major ESPs actually force it. I was under the impression that most do not. Can you share who you were referring to?

AshleySue
AshleySue

@Anirudh Bahadur You know, I completely agree.  While it drives me nuts, @Tom Kulzer 's point about the spam and people using fake addresses for whatever reason makes it a valid procedure still. Unfortunate, but true. Heahea

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Tom Kulzer
Tom Kulzer

@djwaldow I own AWeber, an ESP serving 120,000+ SMB clients around the world with billions of messages sent monthly. The 5-15% stat is the percentage of mail that bounces the very first time you attempt to send to it based on someone subscribing thru a web form. Lead validation services won't fix that issue. The issue has to do with website visitors giving invalid emails thinking they'll get whitepapers or whatever other information someone is giving away, random comment form bots, fat finger typos, and a variety of other issues.

The only thing that prevents continually sending emails to those who haven't requested it is using confirmed opt-in. For every email that bounces, there are bound to be a significant percentage of others that are real email addresses that someone typed in, but don't belong to the person or bot that typed them in.

johnrhopkins
johnrhopkins

@djwaldow @Angelique There are times when I want to double opt-in and times when I REALLY don't. With Aweber, I'm almost always connecting subscribers via the API and really hate that you can only double opt-in via the API... even if users have to pay to subscribe. This is a huge pain point for me.

Angelique
Angelique

 @djwaldow The only one I remember is Constant Contact, although I investigated several services before I choose My Newsletter Builder. I've found that there are "workarounds" for most of the services' rules, but I really hate having to do that. For example, only with MNB is it perfectly okay to simply add someone to your list. Yes, I know that this is the practice of evil, evil spammers. However, as the captain of our block watch, it's an essential option for me, because some of the people who want to receive safety notifications can barely use their computers, much less figure out how to subscribe. And double opt-in? Forget it! I have members who regularly accidentally unsubscribe and then call me on the phone to add them back on.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@JulesWebb @Tom Kulzer Fair point, Jules. Very very. Perspective matters. As far as I know, there has never been a study/report that asks this question. That being said, I think it would be a tough one to accurately report as how do you account for people "remembering" this kind of thing ... unless it was a "test" of sorts.

Latest blog post: Smile

djgraffiti
djgraffiti

@JulesWebb @djwaldow @Tom Kulzer 

Jules, any additional step is a barrier whether users see it as one or not. For some people the welcome email will get caught in their spam catcher and they'll forget they were supposed to click a link to opt in. So that's a subscriber who wanted to opted in that was lost due to double confirmation.


At this point, I'm not 100% sure which side of the fence I stand on, but there are definitely good arguments on both sides.

JulesWebb
JulesWebb

@djwaldow @Tom Kulzer

RE: I'd be willing to take that risk in order to not add another barrier to someone who has just opted in to get my emails.

I question whether this is a perspective from a user or marketer. As a user I do not see this as a barrier. I see this as a positive filter to make sure I'm getting what I want and that future correspondence goes into my inbox.

I know I'm just one person... Does anyone have stats on whether users actually see this as a barrier?

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@Tom Kulzer Got it. Was not clear that it was your data. Thanks. Not to split hairs, but if your clients have to use double/confirmed opt-in by default (and it's not easy/intuitive to turn off), does that mean the data is form the confirmation email bouncing? Again, just trying to clarify.

As far as your comments about my second comment (sounds weird to say that out loud), you make a good point. Those "bad" email addresses could very well be valid email addresses ... owned by someone else. If it were me - and my clients - I'd be willing to take that risk in order to not add another barrier to someone who has just opted in to get my emails.

Thanks for your willingness to have this conversation. We should broaden it to a webinar. You. Me. Single vs. Double Opt-in. I'm serious. What you say? Email me if you are interested - djwaldow waldowsocial.com

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Tom Kulzer
Tom Kulzer

@djwaldow The data is our data, from 120,000+ SMB clients and billions of emails sent. We've talked about it on our blog a bunch of times, I don't have a link handy at the moment.

You're second comment about undeliverables preventing from sending to those that haven't requested it is only looking at part of the problem. Plenty of fat fingered typos, and purposefully incorrect email addresses are indeed owned by real people that didn't request the information they were signed up for and those addresses will not bounce. It's a much bigger issue than most people realize.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@Tom Kulzer Tom! But of course. I was trying to figure out why your name sounded so familiar. Duh! I should have known that. Justin Premick is a buddy of mine.

I'm quite familiar with AWeber. In fact, it's funny as whenever I talk about double/confirmed opt-in, AWeber users always ask me how to turn it off in your app. It's possible, but not that easy. Seeing your comments in this post make me realize why you have such a firm stance. 

You mentioned the 5-15% bounce stat again, but I still am not sure where that data is coming from. I'm not doubting you, just would love to see the source as that's the first time I've seen those numbers.

Lead validation services will not fix all of those issues you mention, but they do "catch" typos and other domain/syntax issues. Certainly not ideal, but a good first pass.

As far as this statement - "The only thing that prevents continually sending emails to those who haven't requested it is using confirmed opt-in" - I'm still not sure I agree. Doesn't that get handled with the welcome email? If I send an auto-responder "welcome" email to a bad email address, it will bounce. Most ESPs - assuming this is true for AWeber too - will take that hard bounce (invalid email address) and automatically unsubscribe/suppress it. Sound the net net result is the same ... minus the subscriber having to take the extra step to confirm.

What am I missing?